Forero recently wrote about the threat facing the Amazonian forest outside of Brazil. This is a personal account of his reporting trip.
We were an hour beyond Salvatierra — Save the Land, ironically — and the road into the heart of the Amazon was starting to narrow and grow even more bumpy.
Hours before, at 5 a.m., we’d set out from the logging honky tonk of Ascencion in eastern Bolivia. My company included photographer Carlos Villalon, who frequents difficult-to-reach corners of Colombia’s jungles, and Felipe Camaye, a 60-something local who could communicate with the local Guarayos Indians.
Listen to Forero’s account from Bolivia:
So far, though, we had done little communicating — stopping only to chat with three loggers taking a break on the side of the road. But we were in the right place, we thought. All along a curvy dirt road that wound through forest we could see tree trunks that had been dragged from the jungle. Earth movers were parked here and there, and trails had been cut into the forest.
But six hours into our trip — and only about 100 miles from Ascencion — we were nearing the end of the trail. My hope had been to reach loggers carving their way into the jungle at that point.
Instead, Carlos said: “This is the end, man.” And then, boom! He was driving, and we quickly came to the realization that our car — a rental that had a low clearance and lacked four-wheel drive — had not been the right vehicle for this trip. I’d seen it first — a huge rock right in the middle of the trail. But I didn’t say a word, as my backseat driving style had already started to grate on Carlos, who was driving. I had assumed he’d seen it, too.
We’d hit the rock dead center, and it had quickly ended our trip. It had buckled the undercarriage and pushed a protective metal bar into the gear box. The car could still move, but only in first, third and fifth gears, and the noise it made was unbearable.
We quickly made mental calculations on how long it would take to walk back to Salvatierra. The better part of a day, we concluded. And our guide, Felipe, was in no condition to walk. He’d been hit by a car months earlier, and a bum leg forced him to use a crutch.
With me at the wheel, we began the journey back, all the while praying that the car would hold out. It would. But the mechanic who made the repairs — a $20 job for something that would’ve have cost at least $1,000 in Washington — told us that at any moment the whole gear box could have gone out, leaving us stranded.
That would’ve been an inauspicious end to our trip. Instead, with repairs made — and made quickly — we resumed our travels the next day. The terrain was similarly difficult. But after half a day driving along dirt trails we’d heard what we’d come for — the sound of chainsaws. Leaving behind the car, as well as Felipe and his bad leg, Carlos and I had tramped into the jungle and found what we came for — loggers, chainsaws in hand, slicing through virgin forest.
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